Legislators catered to big business over GM bill
By Dr. Hector Valenzuela
The Molokai Times (Hawaii), 10 June 2008
[Hector Valenzuela is a Professor and Extension Specialist at the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii at Manoa]
Now that the dust has started to settle after the end of another legislative session, the public can once again be reassured that our representatives put aside the public interest in favor of directives given to them by big business, and the large land owners in the state.
A key bill that illustrates this point was SB-958, which called for a 10-year moratorium on research to genetically engineering (GE) the taro plant in Hawaii. The GE of taro, in the laboratory, consists of inserting foreign exotic genes containing DNA from bacteria, viruses, antibiotics, and from other plants, into every cell of the taro plant. Hawaiians were fervently opposed to this, as they consider taro to be a sacred plant, and part of their genealogy.
Adding to the cultural concerns, critics were opposed to this research because of the health and environmental risks of releasing an exotic GE taro into the environment. A problem with the open release of living forms is that once the genie is taken out of the bottle, there is no more bringing it back inside. If future studies reveal that GE taro causes serious health or environmental problems, it would be impossible to recall because it is indistinguishable from traditional varieties.
In addition GE taro would likely contaminate non-GE plantings throughout the state. Contamination has been observed virtually in all parts of the world were GE varieties are grown. In Mexico, were corn is considered to be a sacred plant, native species in remote areas were found to be contaminated by GE varieties from the U.S., despite the fact that GE corn is not approved for planting in that country.
But we don't have to go as far as Mexico. In Hawaii the extensive contamination of traditional varieties was found only a few years after UH released the UH Rainbow GE papaya. The GE companies so far have been unwilling to take responsibility, nor to compensate farmers, for the widespread contamination of traditional varieties, throughout the word.
In support of the moratorium were a large group of native Hawaiian and civic organizations, the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Kam Schools, the County Councils from the Big Island and Kauai, members of the Maui County Council, many farmers, and all the kupuna and taro farmers from Waipio Valley, adding to over 7,000 letters of support for SB-958.
Despite this overwhelming public support for the moratorium, the legislature not only killed the bill, but earlier added a preemptive clause that would have prevented individual counties from enacting any local legislation restricting the planting of ANY GE crops on their counties.
In opposition to this bill, the assigned spokesperson for the out-of state companies was a person of Hawaiian ancestry, and an employee of Dow Chemical, a global chemical and seed company. Unlike supporters of the bill, who were cut short after only a few minutes of testimony, he was allowed ample time to talk about his family roots, and about his company's long-term commitment to the community.
However, in his testimony the spokesperson for these chemical and seed companies didn't mention what citizens in other parts of the world, feel about his company's commitment to community. One such community would be Bhopal, in India, where a chemical explosion in 1984 left over 23,000 dead, and today a third-generation of victims from chemical exposure.
Community groups, 24 years after the incident, are still calling for a clean-up of the toxic waste and of the contaminated ground water supply. Some of the company's shareholders, including the New York City Pension Funds are also requesting that the company address the issues that linger in Bhopal.